What is our question deletion policy?

I've recently become a 10k plus user, and I was taking a look at the moderation tools, specifically the deletion votes section. As I was looking at the questions nominated for deletion, it struck me that I don't know what our question deletion policy is.

I gave it a search, but didn't turn anything up, so I thought I'd ask here.

More specifically

Obviously questions nominated for deletion are closed/on-hold questions, and thus aren't good questions, so my question is which closed questions should be kept around and which should be deleted?

Why the question occurred to me

This question is rightly closed for lack of context, but the answer clearly took time to write, has 5 upvotes (1 silent downvote), and looks to be of value. Is the question worth keeping for its answer? (Similar thoughts on this one).

These questions have two delete votes each, and I realized that since I don't know our deletion policy, I don't know whether to cast a delete vote or not.

• You can cast a delete vote if you want to. I believe that is the official policy. – Matt Samuel Jan 9 at 21:42
• Once a question is on hold, it is on the road to deletion, whether anyone votes to delete or not – the software sees to that. If you want to prevent such autodeletion (for example, to prevent a valuable answer from going down the gurgler with the question), maybe the best way is to edit the question to remedy its perceived faults, and nominate it for reopening. – Gerry Myerson Jan 10 at 1:02
• @MattSamuel Thanks, that's a completely reasonable policy. – jgon Jan 10 at 1:05
• @GerryMyerson, I don't much care whether these questions are deleted or not. I could see arguments either way for them, which is why I wanted to see what the policy was. However the autodelete script wouldn't have deleted them, since they have answers with positive score. – jgon Jan 10 at 1:06
• Thanks for including some examples. There's a long history of discussion about encouraging asking good Questions vs. discouraging asking bad Questions, and the role of deleting Questions (as opposed to Answers) in building excellent content here. I'd ask my colleagues here to avoid "throwing out the baby with the bathwater" when one or more well written Answers are at issue. Deletion pretty well guarantees that no effort will be made to improve even minor shortcomings of Questions, which was a primary rationale for introducing the "on-hold" status as a preliminary phase of closing them. – hardmath Jan 10 at 1:13
• There are people who downvote answers in order to facilitate deletion of questions, with no regard to the intrinsic merits of the answers, so a positive score is only a temporary reprieve, jgon. – Gerry Myerson Jan 10 at 1:17
• @GerryMyerson Fair point, I've seen some of the old meta discussions on that. I'd forgotten about that though. – jgon Jan 10 at 1:22
• I see little harm in allowing such a carefully written answer to remain. I think there is some harm in deleting it: 1) The answerer's time is wasted; 2) People who might have learned from the answer will not have the opportunity; 3) Users may become hesitant to write high quality answers for questions that they think are interesting but which might not have provided enough context (in the opinion of some users), for fear that the question will be deleted. In my opinion, if a question inspires a good answer, the thread as a whole has value and should not be lost. – littleO Jan 10 at 20:42
• @littleO I think that overall I tend to agree with that sentiment, although I can see the other side of the argument as well, since we don't want to encourage/reward poorly written questions. – jgon Jan 11 at 19:54
• Sidenote: the deletion of a bad question does not necessarily mean that the answers must be thrown away. In the case of dupes, one can repost the answer there. In other cases, one may wish to post an improved version of the question along with the answer, should they feel like it. – Simply Beautiful Art Jan 20 at 4:34
• @SimplyBeautifulArt Fair point. – jgon Jan 20 at 4:44
• @GerryMyerson: The software, as I understand it, only deletes questions that have no good (2 upvotes IIRC?) answers. The Cevians question has been deleted by users, not by the software. And there is no way to add context to a question, in the way we usually understand "context". – darij grinberg Jan 21 at 3:01
• @darij, how does this engage with my comment, "There are people who downvote answers in order to facilitate deletion of questions, with no regard to the intrinsic merits of the answers, so a positive score is only a temporary reprieve"? – Gerry Myerson Jan 21 at 23:50
• @GerryMyerson: "2 upvotes" $\supseteq$ "total score \geq 2". – darij grinberg Jan 22 at 0:10

One additional consideration I'd like to mention is to avoid deleting duplicate questions, provided that they are (a) not a bad question for other reasons, and (b) not literal (verbatim) duplicates of the duplicate target. Alternative wordings help with searchability, both internally and externally.

• Fair point, I think I've seen one of the overall meta posts as to why duplicates are overall a good thing. Makes sense. – jgon Jan 10 at 1:08

For posts where there is not a direct problem, it's generally better not to delete very recent things, give others a fair chance to improve posts. Another advantage of waiting a bit is that there are helpful autodelete scripts that kick in after about a week.

As a simple criterion: Don't delete something that is "on hold" yet not yet "closed."

That's not a strict rule, though. But, as a guideline it could be helpful.

It is arguably also less useful to delete rather old stuff. I'd focus on posts that are, say, between two and eight weeks old.

While there are no actual restrictions. There are many, many closed questions on the site and you get relatively few delete votes, thus when in doubt you could cast them only on stuff where both question and answer seems not of much value.

• that makes sense. – jgon Jan 10 at 1:07

Stack Exchange sites are intended to be repositories of high-quality Q&A, not mediocre answers to low-quality questions. If both the question and the answer(s) are low quality, the whole thing should be deleted. If a low-quality question has high-quality answers, though, it might be worth keeping around for the sake of the answers.

There's a related discussion (see here and here, for example, on Stack Overflow Meta) as to whether or not people should be answering low-quality questions in the first place. My basic take on that is basically what I said above: only answer bad questions if you can write an answer that's good enough to justify keeping a bad question around.